Saturday, April 20, 2013

What Students Want: In Their Own Words

As teachers, we spend the majority of our time asking our students for results.  We ask them to complete assignments on time, to study for tests, to be on time to class, to come prepared to learn, to think, to respond, to write, to be responsible, to be reliable and to be respectful. Why? We want them to succeed in school.

The results that we face in regard to required benchmarks, state test preparations, AYP, administrative exhortations to, “Fulfill all professional duties in a timely manner,” as well as special requests from counselors and parents sap our energy.  Why? We all want our schools to succeed.

We often don’t have a minute to take a breath.

We often don’t have the in-depth class time that we desire to spend on our teaching goals and objectives.

We often forget to ask ourselves, “What do my students expect from me?”

Before I retired, I asked my young people to make a list on the topic: What students want from their teachers.  Then I explained that they were to consider this issue in relation to what they felt most affected their success in school. These responses are from 150 ninth through twelfth graders enrolled in AP, regular, or teamed Special Ed classes, as well as from former students who have kept in touch with me (and one newspaper editor I recently met). They span all ethnicities, genders and socio-economic levels. Each person wrote down his/her top request for teachers

Here is their What Students Want:  A Top 12 List and a Short Essay. These responses are their own unedited words.
  1. Return graded work on time and with comments. “We didn’t do all of this work for nothing.”
  2.  I want to be able to understand why teachers do things-like why we have certain weights on grades and why we get marked down a few points if we were absent on the day homework was due.
  3. Teachers must have an unfaltering sense of humor.
  4.  Don’t tell me to learn a chapter at home. Ask me to read it, but it’s your job to teach it so I can learn it.
  5. Don’t assign groups to read something from the text and then to teach/present a section to the class as Student Experts. This is a terrible way to teach.
  6.  Make me cupcakes!
  7. If I don’t understand what’s going on, I expect my teacher to explain it in a different way than by using only the examples in the book. They didn’t make sense to me when I read them; that’s why I asked.
  8. I won’t ask you to notice the invisible kids…but at least act like you see us.
  9. Realize that, no, this isn’t my only AP class, even though you think yours is the most important, and that I’m not fond of suffocating under stacks of papers.  Is this the only class that you teach?
  10.  Stop calling on the same people over and over. There are 30 people in a class…not just 3.
  11. Please let me eat!
  12.  Be patient when we ask questions; if the teacher gets frustrated, we won’t ask for help again.

About a year ago, I mentioned this topic to the Editor-in-Chief of a local online newspaper, The Herndon Patch, when she was interviewing me for an article. She mentioned that she had hated English because she always felt that she was wrong, no matter what she said or wrote.

 A few weeks ago, when I heard that she was leaving journalism to begin another career, I chatted with her and mentioned how much her comment still resonated with me. Too often over the years, I heard similar comments from young people, be they my own kids, their friends or students. She wrote down her story for me and gave me permission to include it in a blog.

Here is what Leslie wrote in response to the topic, “What I want from teachers”… in her own words.

     Growing up English and language arts classes were my absolute favorite. I'm addicted to reading and I've always loved writing. It's always come naturally to me. I always had high grades in language arts, often above 100 percent. However, when I was a sophomore in high school I had a teacher who I could never seem to please. I would write the assignments as she asked to the best of my ability and somehow still get bad grades. 

     Eventually I figured out it was my personality and attitude that she didn't like. I was an angst-filled teenager with all the emotions that go with it, and she didn't like my ‘negativity’.  Once I realized this, I began writing my papers how I thought she wanted me to complete them and suddenly my grades improved drastically. I passed her class with something like a C+. 

     This teacher had the same problem with a friend of mine, referring to her as a "big ball of negative energy”.  My friend and I both had good reason to be moody teens. Our formative years were not always easy and both of us had major life events that had lasting impacts on us as teens. That was reflected in our writing. 

     After the horrible year of sophomore English, I decided I couldn't take traditional language arts classes any more if I was going to have people tell me I was wrong for writing my true feelings and experiences. So I decided to take journalism instead. My teacher was open, trusting and encouraging in everything I did, allowing me to explore journalism freely as a student. To fulfill my credit requirements, I spent my last two years of high school taking journalism, independent study photography and yearbook (I was yearbook editor) instead of English classes. 

     To say this experience has shaped my life is an understatement. It put me on the path to where I am now and really, everything I've done in the last decade since graduating from high school. 


The teacher-student relationship is like a two-way street.  Drivers need to be aware of everyone on the road with them, not just what they are doing. Quantitative findings about speed limits, the safest vehicles, etc. are important to a successful journey, but it’s the actions and reactions of people that give this data meaning. 

Teachers and students fuse their passions to build a successful learning environment. Statistics show no zeal.
Teachers and students reveal excitement, frustration, stress, or a myriad of emotions during any school day. Data doesn't put any credence on emotions.

Teachers and Students form the foundation of a school system. Without them, educational statistics would have no basis to exist.

If the teacher-student two-way street is to bear the necessary emotional and academic traffic, if their ideas and passions are to complement each other and create a smooth flow, if they both are going to finish their trip and not crash and burn, then they must communicate.

This top 12 list and short essay is sure to open any jammed communication lines.

Happy Teaching,

No comments:

Post a Comment